Happy Valentine’s Day, Agora readers! Love is in the air here at Agora, and we want to share a little about our one true love: books. We love reading books, we love publishing books, and we love books about love — so here’s the roundup of our favourites.
(And also, Guinness Book of World Records, let us know if we’ve set any kind of record for the amount of times the word ‘love’ is used in a blog post.)
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
I received this book for my thirteenth birthday, just in time for me to fall very much in love with a boy for the very first time. It gets first love so absolutely right. The drama and banality, the sitting in inevitably uncomfortable, inevitably cold places late at night in pursuit of long conversations and a thrilling knee graze you’ll dissect for four days afterwards. It’s also about friendship, and being okay with yourself, and did a wonderful job of talking about depression a long time before that was considered an okay thing to do… I’m also pretty sure it’s responsible for my (probably unhealthy) view that competitive bickering is a love language.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
I love this book for so many reasons. I love the way it deals with the process of falling in love with someone else being so tied up with falling in love with a version of yourself. Forming a tiny little locked room world in which you’re understood and from the safety of which you can explore each other and all the layers of things you each bring with you. The fact it’s impossible to preserve it forever and the tragedy and loveliness of that. I read it in one sitting in Cusco while my travelling companion had such a hideous case of altitude sickness/melodrama that she couldn’t walk up stairs or speak, so I was left to retreat totally into Patti Smith’s New York, and I will never forget the way it made me feel.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Marriage, infatuation, whether you ever really (no, like really) know a person. The nature of independence, of individual value, of truth and of long-term love, the choices we make and what makes them the right ones… this book is so good on so many topics. I don’t know if there’s anyone left in my day-to-day life who hasn’t had the hardback of this thrown at them when they asked me for something to read, so why not extend it to the internet. It’s not light but it is an absolute joy and I dare you to wade through this book unaffected. Or, for that matter, without hoarding a small mountain of phrases that seem to perfectly articulate something for which you didn’t know you needed the words.
Two books that are an absolute given and therefore require no explanation/allow me to cheat a little: Bridget Jones’ Diary (forever on my shelf and in my heart) and One Day (Anne Hathaway-related sins aside: few books have captured the beauty and inconvenience of knowing someone is absolutely for you while having absolutely no idea what role to put them in).
For someone who thought she didn’t like books about love, I seem to have come up with a long list of them for this post. Don’t get me wrong, I consume more romantic comedies than is probably healthy, but when it comes to books, I just thought it wasn’t my cup of tea. But the more I listed them, the more I realized I probably do love love in books, not just the kind of silver screen magic.
So here are my top picks about love…
Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
If you want a heart-breaking read that has nothing to do with romance, but all to do with love, this is the book for you. A little weird, but a lot wonderful, this is the story of a young girl who loses her beloved uncle to complications with HIV, in a time when it wasn’t okay to talk about AIDS. Abandoned to her grief by a family unsure how to process it, June embarks on her own adventure of compassion and coming of age.
Wilful Disregard by Lena Anderson
Look – do I love Post-It notes? Yes. Did I mainly buy this book because of the Post-It note on its cover? Also yes. Are Post-It notes necessary when reading this book? Absolutely yes. Honestly, this is one of the most quotable books I’ve ever read. We’ve all been there: we’re into someone, we think they’re really into us too, turns out they’re not that into us, but it doesn’t stop us from trying to convince them they should be really into us. Equal parts reflective and cringe-worthy, I dare you to not see yourself in this novella (and not underline every other sentence because it so perfectly says something you’ve thought).
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
As many of you may know, I love dogs: I’m conviced my dog Rigley is my soulmate and I hope to be reincarnated as a dog one day. So probably my favourite book about love is one about the purest and most unconditional: a dog and his human. I sobbed so uncontrollably on a flight to Barcelona that a few people had to ask me if I was okay. And the weird thing? It’s not even that sad. It’s just incredibly sweet. The novel – stay with me here – is told from the perspective of the dog, Enzo. But it’s really about his owner’s life: from being single, to being married, having kids and losing loved ones, Enzo is there through it all. (13/10 say this puplifitng story is the perfect love story.)
Honourable Mentions go to The Last Summer of You and Me by Ann Brashares – which I always talk about and is that perfect tear-jerking romantic read, The Pact by Jodi Picoult for that dark side of love and what it does to us, and then, to pick you back up, Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella so you can happily snort your beverage of choice out your nose.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
It’s completely surprising to not only myself but Sam and Kate, too, that this is the first time I’m bringing this title up in a blog post. It’s the answer to any reading-related question for me. ‘What’s your favourite book?’ The Book Thief. ‘What book would take to a deserted island?’ The Book Thief. ‘Do you have any book recommendations for me?’ The Book Thief. (You get the point.) You might assume that a story narrated by Death couldn’t possibly teach you anything about what it means to love; but you, dear reader, would be wrong. The Book Thief teaches you about young love, about familial (blood or otherwise) love, and about a love of words. It also teaches you what happens when love is nowhere to be found. It’s not necessarily romantic, but you’ll put the book down with a brand new perspective of what it means to love one another and a renewed love of literature.
Boy Erased by Garrard Conley
This one is in case you needed any more reminders that love is love is love is love is love. Boy Erased is the memoir of a boy growing up in the Southern US who was sent to gay conversion therapy by his fundamentalist parents. It’s divided between Conley’s time in the conversion program and the relationship with his family in the lead-up to it. As you can image, it’s about who we’re told we’re allowed to love, which is both inspiring and, inevitably, heartbreaking. To be frank, this book is absolutely enraging. I grew up in an extremely religious, conservative town, too, and felt that old reminder of the hatred that can breed in that environment bubbling up with every word. But it is also the most pleasant reminder that we love who we love, and no one should ever take that away from us. If for some absurd reason you don’t want to absorb this one in book form, there’s also been a movie made of it recently starring Nicole Kidman, Russel Crowe, Lucas Hedges and perfect-human Troye Sivan.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Do I have depressing taste in books? It’s definitely shaping up that way with this list. Yes, Never Let Me Go will make you want to bawl your eyes out from start to finish, but there is truly no story of love stronger than the one between two people who know they don’t have long to love. I think Never Let Me Go was the first book to convince me that true love is real, and yet, this book is cruel. To create two characters who fit so perfectly together and devote themselves to each other so sweetly, only to have their relationship destroyed by an inhumane science experiment? That’s the genius and merciless world of Kazuo Ishiguro, and it will haunt you forever.
As always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN with your favourite book about love!